This has been a hard one to write. A few of you may remember that I rode at a place in Blanco, TX recently. During that ride, I rode with a friend, Alex. He had recently purchased a beautiful, palomino mare. The story was this: 6 year old mare, neglected recently by being underfed, allegedly well trained, good temperament, etc. The fellow he bought the horse from was willing to accept payments for the horse, bring Alex along in his riding, and help to put weight on the horse. I had no role in this purchase except to support my friend.
Well, when I took Lola to ride with Alex in Blanco, Tx, I had the chance to meet and ride this palomino mare. She was a good sized horse, a little thin, but solidly built and big boned. You could tell she was going to get huge with the right feed. You could also tell she was nervous, braced, and too much horse for Alex. She was high-headed and reluctant to canter. And Alex didn't know enough tricks to get her soft. With the help of the local cowboy, he was escalating his aids to get her to canter: leg kicks, clucking, yelling, screaming, cussing, and smacking her on the hind end with the rein end. She was, of course, only getting harder and harder to canter and requiring more and more stimuli. I could see a real rodeo about to happen. Thankfully, the local cowboy had to run off, and so this left the arena to Alex and me. To this point, I had been riding mostly on one end of the arena keeping my thoughts to myself and focusing on Lola.
But now, I joined Alex in riding, and I encouraged him to ride next to Lola and me. As I thought she would, his mare cantered more easily when she was asked to canter and follow Lola and me. The palomino mare was obviously feeling scared, wanting for leadership, and trying to figure out how to get away from the stimuli she'd been receiving without really understanding. She was really not in a place to ride independently from Lola, and Lola was distracting her from working.
Alex offered me a ride on his mare, and I reluctantly accepted. I don't like riding in saddles other than my own, and I was really wishing for a night latch with this new horse. I mounted well enough, noting that she was a tall horse and it was a long way down. I never really got the stirrups the way I wanted them. And when I tried to flex her from the saddle, she was just one big muscle and braced tight. This was no way to ride a horse. I did some hindquarter yields, and this got her thinking, which was better than braced. I did a little more flexing, and was making small progress with letting her realize that I was going to be offering a "release" quickly. But by this point, she was already too braced and wired to really get soft in just a few minutes, so I didn't do much more than walk and trot. I don't even remember if I asked for the canter much. It was clearly a disaster waiting to happen, and I didn't feel like getting bucked. I surrendered her back to Alex, and we finished the ride in the arena without challenging his horse much more.
I'm a big believer in: ask, tell, promise. In fact, I don't usually ask more than twice for something from my horse. If I move my arms forward and start walking from the saddle, that's me asking my horse. If the horse doesn't move forward, then I'll tell the horse to move with more forward hands and more energy from my seat. If the horse still isn't responding, heaven help that horse, because I will use everything in my arsenal to get that horse moving forward and I will not stop. And if I have to get on the ground and move the horse around for safety reasons, I will make that horse wish I had never dismounted. I never beat the horse, but I do make the horse work until I see signs of submission and softening and UNDERSTANDING.
If I've done my ground work, I shouldn't have to do much work from the saddle. What I saw in Alex's mare was that she needed ground work, tons of it. There was no submission, she had not accepted human leadership, and she was too darn dangerous to ride, in my opinion. I estimated 5 good round pen sessions and 10 more with longe work and lots of yielding. And my first rides with her would be in a riding round pen with less distractions. Only then, once she was moving freely into a canter at the FIRST ask, would I bring her out into the arena. I don't know where she came from, or what form of neglect she had received other than under-feeding, but there was a lot to learn about this horse before I would have felt comfortable with her.
But we survived that ride, and chalked it up to an adventure, and I got busy with work.
Alex went back to ride her about 10 days later. He took his family with him, and mounted her to ride in the arena. He asked her to canter, and she quickly started bucking. He was thrown, landed hard, and immediately had no function of any of his limbs. He was airlifted to a local hospital, where it was determined he suffered a C7 and T1 verterbral body fracture with some subdural bleeding. He recovered limb function about an hour after the fall, but will require a fusion surgery in the near future. He is looking to sell his horse back, and has been advised by his physicians to never ride a horse again.
I consider Alex to be a very lucky man. I went to the hospital a few hours after the event, and I can tell you he did not look pretty. The community has been praying for him, and I hope he makes a full recovery.
I, in no way, blame the horse. She might make a fine mount one day, for the right person. But she will need a skilled rider and some time.
It's just the same old story of a young horse with an inexperienced rider.
I felt really badly for a while that I didn't do more to keep Alex off that horse, but I've forgiven myself and reminded myself that I can't rescue a grown man. But I do think I'd do some things differently if I had to do it all over again. I'd probably be much more outspoken about my concerns. But short of that, I don't know what could have been done.
I hope this writing helps someone...